Thursday, February 28, 2008

More on Lay and Lie

One reason there is so much confusion between the verbs to lay and to lie is that their past tenses sound alike. Here's a quick and easy rundown and reference for you to use whenever you need it. Feel free to copy and paste, but if you use it online or in an article or book, please give me credit. Thank you!

Present Indicative Tense
  • I lay
  • you lay (thou layest, if you're writing Shakespearean or Biblical English)
  • he lays, she lays, it lays (he, she or it layeth)
  • we lay
  • you lay
  • they lay

Past Tense

  • I laid
  • you laid (thou laidest)
  • he laid, she laid, it laid (he, she or it laideth)
  • we laid
  • you laid
  • they laid

Past Perfect Tense

  • I have laid
  • you have laid (thou hast laid)
  • he has laid, she has laid, it has laid (he, she or it hath laid)
  • we have laid
  • you have laid
  • they have laid

Past Imperfect Tense

  • I had laid
  • you had laid (thou hadest laid--or maybe it's haddest)
  • he had laid, she had laid, it had laid, (he, she or it hadeth laid)
  • we had laid
  • you had laid
  • they had laid


Present Indicative Tense

  • I lie
  • you lie (thou liest)
  • he lies, she lies, it lies (he, she or it lieth)
  • we lie
  • you lie
  • they lie

Past Tense

  • I lay (See, this is where the confusion comes in!)
  • you lay (thou layest)
  • he lay, she lay, he lay (he, she or it, layeth)
  • we lay
  • you lay
  • they lay

Past Imperfect

  • I had lain
  • you had lain (thou hadest lain)
  • he had lain, she had lain, it had lain (he, she or it hadeth lain)
  • we had lain
  • you had lain
  • they had lain

Past Perfect

  • I have lain
  • you have lain (thou hast lain)
  • he has lain, she has lain, it has lain (he, she or it hath lain)
  • we have lain
  • you have lain
  • they have lain

Notice that these past tenses for to lie do not apply to prevarication, where the variation is on lied.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hope's Incredibly Nitpicky Editing Techniques for Word, Part One

Sometimes as we're busy getting the words down in a manuscript, little errors can creep in that we don't notice. Most of the time, Word or whatever processor/program we're using will pick up on it, but sometimes, like at the end of sentences, it will sneak past the built-in grammer checker, too.

The problem: spaces

E.g. This is the first sentence. Between this and the first sentence, there are supposed to be two spaces. However, there are three. Visually, you can hardly tell there's an extra space there, but it's there.
E.g. This is the second sentence. Between "the" and "second" there are two spaces, when there should only be one.

These are minor, but attention to detail can put you ahead of the game with editors, who have to look at enough bad grammar and punctuation without having to deal with a manuscript that doesn't look quite right.

The fix: "Find"

The "find" feature (in Word you press alt-E, F) will allow you to find those extra spaces. Enter two spaces in the "find" box and then click on "find next." It will put a small black rectangle between every sentence. If the rectangle moves on to the next sentence, you have exactly two spaces after the period, question mark, or exclamation point. If, however, the rectangle just moves slightly and stays between those two sentences, you have an extra space. You can eliminate that with either backspace or delete.

The same holds true for extra spaces between words. Most times, the internal grammar checker will underline those in green (in Word), alerting you to the problem, but sometimes it doesn't. This will show you where those mistakes are while you're busy checking to make sure you don't have extra spaces at the end of your sentence.

Another good reason for looking for extra spaces: sometimes you can fit more onto a page and avoid "widows and orphans," as Word calls those pages with a single word or sentence at the top and the rest of the page blank. Think of it as one more way you can line edit more easily. Happy editing!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Regular and Irregular Past Tense

Verb past tenses are often confused, sometimes thanks in part to their misuse in the media. Does everyone remember the comedy, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"? How many of you cringed and shouted, "NO! It should be 'Honey, I SHRANK the Kids!'?"

Shrink is actually a regular verb. From present, through past, and past perfect, it is
  • shrink
  • shrank
  • shrunk

Conjugated in the same way, we find

  • sink
  • sank
  • sunk

  • drink
  • drank
  • drunk

  • clink
  • clank
  • clunk

  • stink
  • stank
  • stunk

However, a few other -ink verbs are not regular. That is, it isn't

  • think
  • thank
  • thunk

although it makes perfect sense, and sometimes one encounters "thunk" in dialect or comic writing. The proper conjugation is

  • think
  • thought
  • thought

Similarly, we find

  • blink
  • blinked
  • blinked

  • wink
  • winked
  • winked


  • link
  • linked
  • linked

Unless you have delved into verb conjugation while studying another language, you probably don't give verb tenses as much thought as you should. It's easy to get lazy and write in the vernacular. While this is proper in conversation for conveying character (although, in the above film/TV case, a supposedly well-educated scientist should know how to conjugate a verb!), in our descriptions and action beats, we should never let our verbs get the best of us!

Do you have a verb usage question? Feel free to ask in the comment box, or just leave a comment if this series is helpful to you! Thanks!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pronoun usage

Today, the sticky problem of pronouns. We all know what they are, and we may think we have a good handle on using them. However, as all too many writers know, sometimes we end up with clinkers like “Joan gave the candy to Bill and I.” I’m writing this entry in Word to cut & paste later, and this time, it actually caught the mistake. You can’t always count on your word processing program to have better grammar than you do.

The problem.

The “I or me” problem usually happens because, as a child, the writer misused “me” in sentences like “Jimmy and me went to the store.” After years of hearing “and I,” the child mistakenly thinks (consciously or subconsciously) that “and me” is never correct. That isn't the case, of course. "And me" is always correct when it is part of the object of the sentence.

Determine which of the following is correct.

  • Joey and me need some answers.
  • Joey and I need some answers.
  • Janet gave Bill and I some coffee.
  • Janet gave Bill and me some coffee.

The fix.

In order to figure out whether to use "and I" or "and me" in sentences, take out the other party, e.g., Joey and Bill. Since you would never say "Me need some answers" or "Janet gave I some coffee," it's easy to see which ones to use. Your correct sentences are below:

  • Joey and I need some answers. (I need some answers.)
  • Janet gave Bill and me some coffee. (Janet gave me some coffee.)

The problem.

Who and whom. I have read some published books where the author was unsure about whether to use who or whom in a sentence, and the editor didn't know, either. While I have no objection to their being misused in conversation (after all, proper usage goes to indicate education levels, and you wouldn't expect someone with a third-grade education to use who and whom properly; unfortunately, in real life, I've heard people with doctorates misuse them!), in prose, it just reflects badly on the author and the editor.

  • Who did you say was calling?
  • Whom did you say was calling?

If the sentences above were:

  • Who was calling?
  • Whom was calling?

you wouldn't have any trouble picking the right answer, because it's obvious. The two earlier sentences are trickier, because, at a glance, they both look right.

The fix.

In order to determine who or whom, just substitute the proper pronoun for the person who is calling. E.g. the answer to the above question, if keeping to the who/whom subject/object format, comes out like this:

  • He was calling (or she was calling).
  • Him (or her) was calling.

That makes the answer easy to see!

In conclusion, just determine whether your pronoun is the subject of the sentence or the object of the verb. The subject will be I, you, (thee), he, she, it, we, you, they. Object pronouns are me, you, (thou), him, her, it, us, you, them. So, It and You remain the same whether they are subjects or objects, while the rest of the pronouns are irregular.

Monday, February 18, 2008

May or Might--find out for sure!

I've had such a good response from the Commonly Confused Words page on my website that I've decided to tackle a few more little grammar bugbears that can make writing difficult to understand.

More people seem to have trouble with conditional verb usage than any other form. May and might are used interchangeably. Lay and lie are likewise confused. There are scores of others, but we'll start with these two samples.

The problem:

May or Might: which one should you use? To find out, try them in sentences.

  • You may have been killed!
  • You might have been killed!

OK, the response to the second is, "But I wasn't killed. I'm okay."

The response to the first could easily be, "Oh, my goodness! Was I killed?"

In determining which one to use, may or might, first determine the time and intent of the sentence. Is it something that, if it happened, makes the question possible? Does it make sense?

The fix:

When in doubt about whether to use may or might in a sentence, substitute can and could. That translates the above sentences to "You can have been killed" and "You could have been killed." Obviously, unless you're talking to a ghost or a vampire, you wouldn't tell someone that they can have been killed.

The problem:

Lay or Lie: If you've been brought up to believe that to lie is only to prevaricate or tell an untruth, then let me introduce you to a better definition.

  • I'm going to lay down.
  • I'm going to lie down.

In the second sentence, I realize you're probably tired and want a nap. In the first sentence, I want to know what you're going to lay down.

The fix:

Again, using synonyms for the words in question can get you out of a sticky situation where the reader may misunderstand you. A synonym for lay down is put. A synonym for lie down is recline.

  • I'm going to put--- [Famous sample, first line of "Down By the Riverside:" "I'm gonna lay down my burden..."]
  • I'm going to recline. [I can almost see the recliner now, can't you?]

The problem:

Set and Sit: often confused because they're similar, short, and sound alike.

  • Set down and rest a spell.
  • Sit down and rest a spell.

(Yes, I know the examples are Southern. I'm in the South now.)

The fix:

Using synonyms will help you out of the jam. Set=put. Sit=be seated.

  • Set down that bag of groceries and rest a spell.
  • Be seated and --- no, I'm sorry, folks just don't often use be seated in conjunction with "rest a spell," but you get the idea.

Check back soon for more commonly confused verbs!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

And the Winners are---

And the winners are: (drumroll please!)

Missy T

CONGRATULATIONS! Please e-mail your mailing address to Cheryl at anavim 4 him [at] gmail [dot] com (removing all spaces and replacing [at] with @ and [dot] with . ). Cheryl says you may have your choice of regular or large print, so please be sure to indicate your preference when you write.

Thank you to all of you who participated in this great experiment in blogging! You are what makes blogging fun!